Welcome to the Scottish Heritage Home Page!

- Robert Burns



Balchrystie Burn Marsh

I almost hate to write about the Balchrystie  Burn Marsh as in so doing I'm likely sowing the seeds of its destruction. In that I remember the marsh, as when as a small boy I used to go there, marks the marsh as a special place. At least, for me, it was and still is in my mind's eye. It's strange than in all of my wanderings to the marsh I do not recall seeing  another human. It was like no one except me ever knew of the existence of the marsh and all the wonderful things that were there.

To get to the marsh which is only about two miles from Earlsferry one first has to cross the wooden foot bridge that is just upstream from the Swallie Braes, so named for the colony of sand martins that make their homes and raise their fledglings in the high sand banking where the Cockle Mill Burn twists and flows on its way to meet the sea  at the easterly end of Largo Bay and adjacent to Shell Bay.

The Swallie Braes. Another one of Alberto's photos.

These spots on the sand bank are actually the entrances to tiny tunnels where pairs of sand martins  (of the swallow family) have tunneled into the sand banking to make their nests.  

Near the west side of the bridge the Balchrystie Burn joins up with the Cockle Mill Burn at a place known to the locals as The Moss. As you follow the Balchrystie Burn, upstream and north westerly from The Moss, the burn widens out to create a place that is sodden and marshy.  This is the Balchrystie Burn Marsh.

An entire book could be devoted to the marsh and the species of flora and fauna and the many birds that make the marsh their home but someone else will have to do that.

As winter went into spring, melting snows formed pools of water at the fringes of the marsh where frogs laid their tiny eggs among the reeds which as the days wore on would develop into tadpoles. This process of witnessing tiny eggs that would go through the metamorphosis of development from the beginnings of life starting under water to the day when completely formed little frogs crawled out on to dry land to me was mind boggling.

As winter let go of its frozen grip, the swamp just burst into life as beautiful wild marshland flowers of numerous species, emerged. My favourite display of wild flowers there was the show that the marsh put on of golden, waxy-yellow, marsh marigolds. I'm sure that today many of the marsh's flowers are endangered species as is the entire marsh itself and should be treated as such.  That is the problem. If too many people come to see the marsh unfold, the essence of what is one of the wonders of creation and life itself will be trampled to destruction. How can the wild life in the delicate marsh be viewed without being destroyed? That is a question that I can’t answer which makes me not want to draw attention to the marsh by writing about it in the first place.

In the spring time the marsh was a noisy place indeed as ducks, snipe, coots, water hens and numerous other wild birds went about the process of building their nests and raising their young. Like nearby Shell Bay, Largo Bay and Ruddons Point the marsh was a solitary place and being far from traveled roadways the only sounds at the marsh other than those made by the birds were the sounds of the sea, the rippling of the burn, the rustling of the reeds and the occasional whisperings of the wind. The marsh was one of natures havens and treasured places.

The Balchrystie Burn marshland was really a very special place. The last time I was there I unexpectedly came upon a pair of hedge-hogs and their young family. Not something that happens to me everyday. If you go to find the marsh take your wellies. In my younger years when I went there, there was no dedicated foot path and it was my custom to take off my shoes and socks, roll up my pants and wade.  No doubt if the marsh exists today there still will not be a pathway.

A word about hedgehogs. With their pointy snouts, big eyes, short legs, quill covered bodies and their ability to roll into a ball they are the cutest little animals that never fail to bring a smile and a squeal of joy to a young observer.

However, hedgehogs are well named as they do hog the hedgerows. To a gamekeeper hedgehogs are anathema. Hedgehogs are predators in that they devastate the nests of wild birds such as pheasants and partridges that nest in long grasses and hedgerows. A gamekeeper once told me that in the springtime, which is the nesting season for wild birds, hedgehogs have a hey day as they push their powerful little snouts right under nesting birds to lift the birds up off their nests then proceed to devour the eggs.  Not at all a nice thing to do.